On a stinking hot summer’s day in August 2012, we merrily set off from Paris to visit Versailles. What did we know about it? It was the palace of French royalty and their court, the residence of the infamous Marie Antoinette and that the palace was raided and looted in the bloody French Revolution. Our hotel was close to the Metro and with the help of our lovely concierge, we had our tickets booked and all that remained was catching the train there! Walking from the train station to the palace takes about five minutes and once you’re there you can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnitude of the place. Impeccably maintained with the gold gilded statues gleaming in the sunlight this is truly an awe inspiring structure. It’s a massive tourist attraction nowadays, but it’s very easy to ignore the hawkers outside the gates and just imagine what this place would have been liked in the height of the French kingdom. It was designed to intimidate and frighten and I can imagine that it did just that to anyone visiting.

Versailles really is a suburb in itself. There’s the main palace which is of course enormous! Then there’s the expansive gardens and the residence of Marie Antoinette. I can’t claim to be an expert in all the attractions contained within the gardens as even with the whole day spent there, I feel like there are probably more hidden things that we didn’t discover. We started our tour by walking through the palace. The audio tour is free and definitely worth getting.

What would it have been like living here? Isolated from the misery of the people and in your own bubble of luxury and decadence? “Let them eat cake”, she said. In other words, out of sight out of mind. The place to me felt haunted. I could just imagine her fleeing down the stairs and being caught, only to meet her end under the guillotine. And then there’s the gardens. I can’t even describe them. Imagine living somewhere where you have the botanical gardens as your back yard? So easy to get lost and away from prying eyes. Hmmm, I wonder what went on in between the tall hedges and manicured trees?

Time for a break? What better place than in the palace’s own courtyard?

The lake is just visible in the background of the picture below (yes that’s still the palace’s gardens), has a cafe set up and you can hire row boats by the hour to take a romantic row around. It’s so beautiful… (for those who don’t have a 5 year old screaming bloody murder the whole time “row to the edge, I want to get on solid ground etc.”).

The lowdown:

  1. You cannot possible walk the whole gardens. You have 3 options. You can jump on a little train that takes you around to the most popular spots where you can jump off and explore a bit more. You can hire a golf buggy (by the hour) and stick to the designated route, again jumping off and parking where you like. You can also hire some bikes and ride around the grounds.
  2. There are tours available to book that will take you around and show you everything. Great idea except that they’re super expensive. I kind of like the freedom that wandering around and discovering for yourself provides.
  3. You may get lucky and come when it’s not busy but if it is, expect long queues and lots of waiting. You must be prepared for this and be happy to just go with it.
  4. Get your tickets online before you go to save yourself a little time. Some websites say get there after 3pm when most of the tour buses are gone. As the golf buggies stop operating at 6pm and it’s starting to get dark, I imagine that you’d get a little stressed if you don’t get to see everything at this time. Just my thoughts though.
  5. Finally, this is a magical, beautiful, once in a lifetime experience that I am so glad we managed to experience it.

Photography by Ms Gingham